Firstly, an apology. I made quite a few of you sad and possibly cry in a public place. I'm a bit sorry but let's face it - you didn't have to experience it first hand...
The diagnosis was the diagnosis and it had to be dealt with. There was no hiding from it but there was lots to prepare for and medical science hadn't finished fiddling with me yet. A fact of life is the world will continue without you. Bills will need to be paid, jobs still need doing, Chris Moyles will inexplicably still find gainful employment, the world will keep spinning. You just had to get off as delicately as possible.
First things first - I needed to focus everything I had, all the anger and sorrow, at this thing growing inside me (SPOILERS - as it turns out, this thing was around 5 years old, 2 foot long and 5kg in weight). Know thy enemy. I had to name it after something I could really focus my hate on, that I could truly despise.
I named my tumour Clarkson. It was the worst thing in the world.
LAWYERS NOTE: There are millions of Clarksons in the world. Don't jump to conclusions.
Now came the tough part of telling everyone. I have no idea what the right way of doing this is but I wanted as many people as possible to hear it on my terms. My family had a good idea but will tell you I constantly downplayed things. I maybe downplayed the whole 'high potential of death' thing but I thought I was pretty honest otherwise. They took it in their stride and possibly never quite fully accepted the ramifications because I hid myself away when I was at my most poorly. I can only imagine what my wonderful mother went through internally - her ability to take a tonne of shit thrown at her by life has been sorely tested over the last 40 years- but she has been a brilliant support even though she'll never accept this fact.
We wanted to protect Ethan but be honest. He didn't deserve any of this but he didn't deserve dishonesty. We told him Daddy had a poorly tummy and would be seeing lots of Doctors and Nurses and wouldn't always be able to play with him and would need lots of rest. Daddy would be poorly for a long time but he was still his bestest little buddy no matter what. He adapted brilliantly and I couldn't be more proud. He'd help Kerry check my 'numbers' (temperature) and would grab the syringe from his toy medical kit to give me and his toys injections to make us all better. But for all the gallons of chemicals pumped in, the thousands of injections and the hundreds of tablets, the best medicine of all was the cuddles I got.
I texted/called friends I couldn't see in person and mainly got the response of 'What the F**k?!!!?' Some people got sad, some got angry on my behalf, some got scared. There's no right or wrong response, but I've found getting angry is a waste of precious energy that's better used on fighting.
I work with over 100 people, and rather than vanishing one day wanted to let them know what was going on. I grabbed them in small groups to explain what was going on - this was an interesting social experiment. Some cried, some shrugged, some asked lots of questions. Some helpful characters told me about people they knew who quickly succumbed to the disease. One clown (he knows who he is) rubbed his eyes, like a faux-crying teddy bear, told me to catch up on Breaking Bad and parted with the words 'try not to die Nicky B'. As I say, people react differently.
Special thanks have to go to my then-manager, Del, who responded to my news with sympathy, compassion and a much needed pragmatism. He also did me the honour of not laughing in my face when I proclaimed I'd be in to work between Chemo sessions. He'd catch up with me daily and set up a conference call between us and his boss and HR. The support and care I was, and still am being given, has made such a difference. I miss my team dearly and can't wait to be back with them.
I had two more procedures left to go through before I could enter the funhouse that is systemic chemotherapy.
Firstly, I had a 90 minute drive to have a PET Scan, which took place in an area of the hospital called Nuclear Medicine. I was almost certain some kind of mutation would take place, but once again Cancer had let me down in the good news stakes. But the process was still quite a wheeze. You sit in a corridor alone and a nervous looking nurse appears. SHE IS WEARING A FRIGGING GEIGER COUNTER!!!! She's also carrying a little metal lunchbox, the sort 1950s workmen have. Out of it comes a 19th century looking massive metal syringe. The Geiger counter starts crackling. She breaks into a sweat. THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!! Whatever the radioactive stuff is, it's injected as quickly as possible and then they scurry off, leaving you to ferment in your own radioactive juices for an hour. To pass the time I read the new Dan Brown - clearly I was more unwell than anyone had realised. Just before your scan you're lead off to the toilet to piss isotopes or something, and hilariously, you have to keep 6ft from the nurses, as if you were part of a hideously formal marriage. Once you have voided your bladder, thinks become disappointing. It's basically a 15 minute radioactive CT scan. Rubbish. Except you're dangerous to pregnant women and children for 24 hours. Plus ce change.
Last procedure is the PICC line insertion. PICC Line? Prick line, more like. You'll be hearing a great deal more about this bastard of a tube. The vast majority of patients happily go years with these things. But not Boardman. NEVER BOARDMAN.
It's a bit odd and uncomfortable but nothing this brave little soldier couldn't handle. You lie in a table with an X-Ray machine looking down over your shoulder area. A clinically smelly green sheet is laid over your shoulder area and the doctor gives you a momentarily sharp stick with Local Anaesthetic and your arm goes happily numb. Using an ultrasound (DIGRESSION - completely forgot about the ultrasound I had with a surly doctor around the time of my MRI. They wanted to check my liver, but they just found 'fatty deposits in keeping with Mr. Boardman's normal body habitus' - I think he was calling me a fat shit. DIGRESSION OVER) they find a nice juicy vein. Then they stab you and shove a tube into the vein, and feed it through your arm, round your shoulder and close to your heart. And there it will stay until your Chemo is done or the sodding thing tries to kill you. Look, this is what it looks like. As you can see, it's both practical and comfortable.
As I left the hospital a harassed and overworked looking lady came racing down the corridor for me. This was Karen. I'm using her actual name because a) she said I could and b) she played such a significant part in my treatment she deserves the credit and all the thanks in the world. She was to be my Chemotherapy Nurse, or poisoner in chief. I think I meant a little more to her because my story matched her and her (slightly crackers) husband's experiences from about a decade ago. Also, I'd served them in my store a few months before and, astonishingly, was really helpful and they'd remembered me when she got my referral letter. Apparently these coincidences made her cry. I wouldn't meet a more dedicated or caring medical professional. I said I'd see her in a few days.
In those few days my battered immune system succumbed to a vomiting bug and I was knocked sideways. I didn't know it was a bug. I thought my cancer had progressed. When I wasn't sleeping I was vomiting or subjected to horrendous diarrhea. I even watched a 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' marathon. By God I was ill. Nothing would make it better and I'd lay awake at 3am with crippling stomach pains. I began thinking about what sort of funeral I'd like, and I wondered if Ethan would even remember me.
I also did something stupid - I started googling my disease and treatment. That was when I found numerous ghost blogs of bowel cancer sufferers that stop mid-story. That was when I found that my chances of making it to the end of the year were 50/50, of making it five years, 6% at best. I'd shake and go numb and sob, because it was 3am and I felt so incredibly afraid and alone.
I was tired and weak and to this day I feel nauseous by association with certain things - Lamb Hotpot, songs by Macklemore, and (fortunately) Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
I turned 33 and my big brother had me round to sit in a chair sweaty and pale faced while the family tried to enjoy themselves. I was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. During the get together Kerry came down with my bug. I've never been so delighted to see her dry retching. I slowly rallied, just in time for Chemo Round 1.
My last job was to let the rest of my friends now my news. And so, with the below post, the Battle of Boardman was to begin. The response to my update was overwhelming, and humbling and astonishing, and galvanised my resolve. I wasn't going down without a fight.
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